Guess who is opposed to introducing a single payer bill into the California legislature this session?
There are the usual suspects — the insurance companies and the Republicans.
But then you have, also in opposition — the California Democratic Party — including Governor Jerry Brown and Senator Mark Leno, the author of the California single payer bill for the past two sessions — and the California Nurses Association.
On the other hand, all of the California public interest groups pushing for single payer — including eight out of the nine groups that make up the Campaign for a Healthy California — are trying to get the bill introduced.
Those eight in favor are: Single Payer Now, Health Care for All, Physicians for a National Health Program, California Health Professional Student Alliance, OneCare, League Women Voters, California Alliance for Retired Americans, and the Green Party.
The one member of the Campaign opposed to reintroducing the bill into the state legislature — the California Nurses Association.
Don Bechler of Single Payer Now says that tension is building within the Campaign for a Healthy California.
“For the last two sessions, we’ve voted to push for introduction of a single payer bill,” Bechler said. “The California Nurses were the only group to argue against it.”
We rang up Charles Idelson of the California Nurses Association and asked him if it was true that the his group was opposing introduction of a single payer bill in the legislature this year.
“You’re saying that the single biggest obstacle to single payer in California is the California Nurses,” Idelson said. “How idiotic is that?”
But that wasn’t the question.
The question was — is it true that your group is opposing introduction of a single payer bill in the legislature this year?
“I’m not interested in this story,” Idelson said. “I’m really not.”
End of conversation.
But 30 minutes later, the California Nurses policy director, Michael Lighty, calls back to explain.
Lighty confirms that his group is not in favor of reintroducing the single payer bill into the California legislature this year.
But it’s not because they are siding with the Democrats.
It’s just a tactical difference with the other single payer groups.
“The groups that favor re-introducing the bill want to organize around it,” Lighty said. “We think if it’s introduced, it will die a quick death in committee, and then what?”
“Just because the Democrats control the legislature doesn’t mean they will pass single payer,” Lighty says. “Just because they are Democrats doesn’t mean they are for single payer. Look at the six Senate Democrats who voted against it last time.”
Lighty says the California Nurses will organize California with an eye on 2016, a Presidential election year.
“It’s eventually going to be on the ballot anyway because the insurance industry will force it on the ballot,” he said. “So, we might as well build with an eye toward a bigger more progressive electorate.”
Bechler says “they might say that, but they don’t believe that.”
“Look at the federal Robin Hood tax. That doesn’t have a chance to pass the Congress, but the California Nurses found a few members of Congress to introduce it. Why? It’s a flag to organize around.”
“Something else is going on in California,” Bechler says.
The California single payer bill passed both houses for two consecutive sessions — in 2006 and 2008.
Both times, Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill.
Then Democrat Jerry Brown became Governor.
“In 2010, Leno’s bill passes the Senate 22 to 14,” Bechler says.
“In August 2010, it comes up in the Assembly. And Assembly Speaker John Perez tells Senator Leno — ‘I don’t want this coming up for a floor vote. It will hurt moderate Democrats chances of getting elected.”
And so, the Assembly doesn’t vote on it and it dies an untimely death.
“My hunch is that even if the Assembly passed it, Governor Brown would have vetoed it,” Bechler says.
Fast forward to 2012.
Again, the Democrats control both the Senate and Assembly.
This time, Leno’s bill didn’t make it out of the Senate.
There were 40 members of the Senate — 25 Democrats and 15 Republicans.
“Six Blue Dog Democrats sided with 15 Republicans to vote the bill down,” Bechler says. “In 2012, it never made it out of the Senate.”
Okay, fast forward to 2013.
Again, the Governor is a Democrat.
And the Democrats have super-majorities in both houses.
They control the Assembly — 48 Democrats to 32 Republicans.
And they control the Senate — 27 Democrats to 13 Republicans.
A couple of months ago, the leadership of the single payer movement in California met with Leno.
“Leno informed us that he doesn’t want to introduce the bill this year,” Bechler said. “He said — my colleagues asked me — ‘What part of no don’t you understand?”
“Mark didn’t walk into the room and say — ‘I’m a servant of the people, let’s talk strategy,’” Bechler says.
“He announced his decision not to be the author this year. He is consulting not with us, but with the Governor. The Speaker of the Assembly. The Speaker of the Senate. He was speaking for the leadership of the Democratic Party. They don’t want this bill coming forward.”
Bechler says not one member of the Assembly has stepped forward to introduce the single payer bill.
The single payer groups even approached Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, considered by many the most liberal member of the California legislature.
“Ammiano got passed the San Francisco Health Plan,” Bechler says. “He’s the legislator of last resort for progressives. And he called me and told me that he didn’t want to introduce the single payer bill into the Assembly.”